TUKWILA, Wash. — The Seattle Sounders returned to practice on Thursday at Starfire, and the mood was as spirited as the training session. Perhaps that was because once again, the soccer gods had smiled upon Brian Schmetzer’s side by bestowing upon them some favorable results over the last two days in MLS play.
Despite only garnering one point in the last two games, the Sounders somehow managed to gain ground on their Western Conference rivals, thanks to a similar dip in form from both the Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City, the latter of whom dropped a 3-1 road result to then-bottom-of-the-table Austin FC. It was a result that didn’t particularly surprise Cristian Roldan, given the unpredictable nature of MLS.
“This league in general is crazy,” Roldan said. “You see Austin — who’s bottom of the table — get a really good result against Kansas City. And not just a 1-0 win, but a decisive win (3-1). On the road, you never know what to expect. You catch a team on a good day, and you might not get a good result.”
The result means that the Sounders once again control their own destiny in the Western Conference where the top seed comes with home-field advantage and a first-round bye.
“We’re happy, obviously, but we still have a job to do,” Roldan said. “We want to be able to play every game at home until the Western Conference final, and to do so we have to win this weekend.”
The Sounders could in theory win the Western Conference with a draw or loss, though that would require both SKC and the Rapids do no better than matching the Sounders’ result. That would seem unlikely on the face of it, but then, none of the top three in the West have covered themselves in glory over the last month, causing one to wonder if anyone actually wants to win the title and secure home-field.
“MLS is a hard league,” Schmetzer said. “If I’m looking at Kansas City and looking at ourselves, both teams have had chances to put this to bed already and we haven’t done it. I appreciate what Peter [Vermes] said at halftime: his team didn’t perform. Sometimes that happens, it’s pro sports. So now it comes down to Decision Day and we’ve got to make sure our teams perform.”
The Sounders will get a chance to reassert their road bona fides in the regular-season finale in Vancouver against a Whitecaps side who is perhaps unexpectedly vying for a playoff spot. In addition to playoff seeding, the Cascadia Cup is also up for grabs.
“It’s going to be a tough game, they are playing extremely well right now,” Roldan said. “Any time you go on the road [with] Cascadia Cup on the line, it’s going to be really tough. But we have to get a result.”
With a couple of additional training days ahead, the Sounders have been able to practice on something resembling a normal schedule. And, importantly, assess the health of the team before making the trip up north. While Will Bruin has been ruled out for at least the match after surgery on his knee, the news was a bit better for the other injured Sounders trying to make their way back on the field.
Jimmy Medranda, Nouhou and Léo Chú were at training Thursday with the latter two fully involved. Schmetzer said Medranda got through most of the session but is still working his way back.
“He’s OK, he’s doing a little better,” Schmetzer said. “He completed about three-quarters of a full training today, so we’ll try to push him to get ready as well.”
Raúl Ruidíaz was also at training, jogging to the side. After some initial worry that he had seriously re-injured his hamstring, the results of the MRI did not show any structural damage, according to Schmetzer.
“He’ll be on a day-to-day basis up until Vancouver, and then the pressure’s off after that,” Schmetzer said. “No significant injury on the MRI. I don’t need to test them. Even if it’s the day-of-game fitness test, we’ll do that, and we’ll get them in the lineup if they’re ready to go.”
- The Sounders announced Thursday that Roldan, Nouhou and Yeimar Gomez Andrade have been called into their respective national teams. Those three — and any others that have yet to be announced — will depart after Sunday’s match in Vancouver. Schmetzer said he was particularly happy for Yeimar, who wasn’t on Colombia’s national team radar when the Sounders signed him. “It put a smile on my face,” Schmetzer said. “It just shows that the level of MLS is growing, when you have three center backs playing for their respective national teams. For Yeimar to be called in at this stage in his career shows he’s been playing at a high level.”
- It’s widely expected that Alex Roldan will also be called into national team duty, but other internationals like Ruidíaz and Brad Smith are not expected to be called in. Either way, national team duty shouldn’t affect their availability.